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With summer’s sweltering heat comes a desire to find cool water and dive right in—but you would be best to think twice before taking the plunge. Approximately 12,000 people in the U.S. suffer a spinal cord injury each year, and diving is one of the major contributing causes to such injuries. It’s also one of the most preventable with some forethought and common sense.

One recent example of the devastating risk involves a young Virginia Beach native now at the University of Hawaii. A defensive lineman for the Rainbow Warriors with a promising career, 19-year-old Kalepo Naotala dove from the cliffs of an area known as Waikiki Walls into shallow water on Saturday, July 1st and suffered some degree of spinal injury. While updates state that he’s showing positive signs of recovery, it’s most likely that his days of competitively playing football are over.

It’s not just adrenaline junkie who’s at risk of jumping in head first, experts warn that diving into any type of unknown waters can have catastrophic results, whether it occurs at a pool, river or beach. The threat is worst when the water in question is murky, but even clear water poses some danger due to the magnifying effect of water—potentially making the area seem deeper than it actually is.

If someone you’re with does hit bottom or some underwater obstruction while swimming, your first priority should be getting them out of the water but not moving them beyond that. Try to make them comfortable, stabilize the head and neck if possible and seek emergency help immediately. You should also watch for these signs of a spinal cord injury:

  • An oddly positioned neck or back
  • Loss of movement
  • Difficulty breathing or coughing
  • Loss of sensation, including the ability to feel heat, cold and touch
  • Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
  • Pain or an intense stinging sensation due to nerve damage


Know that a serious spinal injury isn’t always immediately obvious. Further injury could occur if not detected and treated early, so always seek medical help if an injury is suspected. With a little caution and care, you can enjoy the summer and swimming without the threat of a debilitating injury.

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